Chapter #614

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                                     +
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                               +           +
                             +               +
                           +                   +
                         +                       +
                       +      THE ADVENTURERS      +
                         +                       +
                           +      Epic IV      +
                             +               +
                               +           +
                                 +       +
                                   +   +
                                     +



+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++
+     Many of the locations, non-player characters, spells, and other     +
+   terms used in these stories are the property of TSR, Inc.  However,   +
+   TSR has in no way endorsed or authorized their use, and any such      +
+   items contained within these stories are not representative of TSR    +
+   in any fashion.                                                       +
+     The player characters depicted in these stories are copyright       +
+   1991-2000 by Thomas A. Miller.  Any resemblance to any persons        +
+   or characters either real or fictional is utterly coincidental.       +
+   Copying and/or distribution of these stories is permissible under     +
+   the sole condition that no money is made in the process.  In that     +
+   case, I hope you enjoy them!                                          +
+                                                                         +
+                                                      Thomas A. Miller   +
+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++
+   Halbarad        15th level human ranger                               +
+      Zephyr          rather large tiger                                 +
+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++
+   Date:           1/20/579 C.Y. (Common Year)                           +
+   Time:           dusk                                                  +
+   Place:          the woodlands to the northeast of the Horned Society  +
+   Climate:        cold                                                  +
+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++
+   "If I treat you with the respect you deserve, you'd be dead already!" +
+                                                       - from _Renegade_ +
+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++





                     DCXIV.  Who Watches the Watcher?





  The figure moved through the forest with an ease born of practice and
many years of experience.  Even if his clothes hadn't been of a color and
texture to match exactly the terrain that surrounded him, the man still
wouldn't have been easy to spot.  The orcish scouting party that he was
tracking never had a chance in hell of spotting him.
  Halbarad had been shadowing this band for days now, for such was his
assigned task.  His current masters - the high priests and priestesses of
Ehlonna's temple in Chendl, capital of Furyondy - had asked him to venture
into the dark, dangerous woods to the north and east of the Horned Society
and also, incidentally, to the east of Iuz.  There had been reports of
unusually large and well-organized groups of evil humanoids being formed
and trained in the area.  Although this woodland and the grassy plains all
around it were far from Furyondy's civilized domain, any humanoid activity
there needed to be detected and monitored.
  Thus it was that Halbarad was here, in this unnamed forest, tracking a
dozen orcs as they tromped through the woods, utterly heedless of any
danger.  He could easily have attacked and killed them - he definitely
wanted to, for he hated orcs more than anything else.  Sniping at will
from the cover of the trees would have been child's play for an archer
of his skills, but he knew that he had to watch and learn where they were
going, and if more waited there.
  A nearly-silent rustling to one side reminded Halbarad of his faithful
companion, the enchanted tiger Zephyr.  The great cat had once been an
animal of flesh and blood, but after a particularly savage battle, he had
lain dying.  A druidic ally of surpassing power, while unable to bring
the tiger back from the brink of death, had been able to preserve its life
in a different and more unusual way:  Zephyr was now a magical statuette,
callable for about a full day's time each week.  So it was that Halbarad
had been able to continue adventuring with perhaps his best friend in the
world.
  The huge tiger padded through the forest, paralleling the ranger as he
stalked the orcs.  The cat's senses were far more keen than even those of
Halbarad, and in case of ambush or other unexpected problems, Zephyr would
know before his master.

  Night was falling, and the orcs abruptly stopped to camp; Halbarad also
stopped, about a hundred paces away.  He instructed Zephyr to scout the
entire area, all around, for any other foes.  When the tiger returned a
short time later, Halbarad was still in the same place, watching the fires
that the orcs had carelessly lit.  The stinking humanoids hadn't even
bothered to set guards - sloppy indeed, Halbarad mused to himself.
  Convinced that there was no unknown danger lurking about, the ranger
dismissed his magical tiger, sending it back into statuette form to rest
and regain its strength.  Next, he made himself comfortable and ate, his
supper consisting of some strips of dried meat and a few swallows from
his waterskin.  He had long ago gotten used to sleeping in the wild and
eating small meals throughout the day.  Such things simply didn't bother
him.
  The orcs didn't do much else that night; after eating, they talked and
joked for a few hours, then began bedding down.  Before long, the sounds
of their snoring and farting filled the forest, making Halbarad grimace.
  He hated orcs.

  Even now, as he dreamed in his light sleep, visions of orcs filled his
mind...orcs invading villages...cutting down helpless people...people like
his parents, many years ago when he was just a boy...

  With a start, his eyes blinked open.  No other part of him moved, for
such was his survival instinct.  Darting from left to right, his eyes
quickly found the source of the disturbance:  an orc was hunched over,
about fifteen feet away.

orc:  Unnnnngh!
Halbarad:  (trying to decide whether the humanoid will see him, he
  eventually concludes that as long as he stays still, there won't be
  a problem)

  Just then, a second orc approached the first - and tripped right over
the prone ranger!

orc #2:  Whoops-  (he stands, turning to get a look at the log that got
  in his way)  Hey!

  That exclamation of surprise was the last word ever spoken by the orc,
for Halbarad's dagger caught it in the throat, even as his other arm
pulled the body down.

orc #1:  (pauses in what it's doing)  Huh?  Hey, Rondo!  (he spots the
  ranger, bloody dagger in hand)  AAAAAAA!

  The orc hightailed it toward the camp, his pants down around his
ankles, screaming loud enough to wake the dead.  Cursing, Halbarad
threw his blade, intending to slay the foe right then and there.
However, the other orc, dying on the ground, grabbed at the ranger's
legs, throwing off his aim.

orc #1:  (looks back just as the dagger sticks into a tree next to his
  head)  Aaa!  (he runs ever faster, while trying to get his pants
  pulled up)
Halbarad:  (dispatches the dying orc with his axe, then leaps free and
  gives chase after recovering his dagger)

  At the edge of the orcs' camp...

orc #1:  (runs in out of the dark and cold, screaming, his pants down
  around his ankles)  Someone's out there in the woods - scared the
  shit outta me!
other orcs:  (laughing heartily)
orc #1:  An' he killed Rondo, too!

  Stupid and lazy as they were, the orcs still managed to form a search
party and fan out, beating the bushes in search of the spectral figure
who had slain one of their number.  They never did find him, though,
for he had perched forty feet up, in a tree, out of sight and out of
mind.

Halbarad:  (watching the orcs prance about, he smiles to himself)



  The next day, the band continued to move westward, and Halbarad
continued to follow.  At the pace and direction they were marching,
they'd emerge from the woodlands by midday, which made Halbarad more
than a little uneasy.  Without the trees to cover his movement and hide
him from random spying eyes, he wasn't as safe as he'd been for the
last few days.  Still, he had his mission, and so he continued to track
the orcs that afternoon, staying back farther to make up for the lack
of good cover.
  On a hunch, and as a precaution, Halbarad worked one of the simple
druidic magicks he knew before leaving the forest.  A small bird was
summoned to his side, and he scrawled a quick message on a scrap of
parchment.  This was then tied to the bird's leg.  Using a second
spell, the ranger was able to communicate with the bird...

Halbarad:  Fly!  Fly to Chendl, in Furyondy, to the southwest...carry
  this message to the temple of Elhonna outside the city!
little bird:  <chirp>  (it flies away)

  With that task done, the ranger resumed his tracking of the orcish
wanderers.  They led him over hill and dale, the risk at times becoming
great indeed as the grass dwindled.  In the end, though, it wasn't the
orcs who spotted him, but rather a black dog whose presence there made
no sense.

dog:  (running in wide circles around Halbarad, barking)
orcs:  (spotting this, they charge)

  Halbarad didn't run - there was no need to.  Clutching his magical
figurine, he summoned Zephyr to his side, and then unslung his longbow.
By the time the group of orcs reached him, he had slain three with
arrows, and a fourth lay dying on the cold ground.  This left seven
orcs to fight him...him and Zephyr.

Zephyr:  GRAAAAR!  (it leaps into the midst of the foes)

  The closest orc never had a chance.  Six hundred pounds of furious
tiger tore into it with savage force, ripping its head from its body.
Another orc went down beneath a clawed paw, its entire front side torn
open.  Meanwhile, Halbarad had engaged the other orcs with his battle-
axe and dagger.  The former weapon bore special enchantments against
humanoids such as the orcs, and in two quick flashes of steel, it had
taken the life from two of the foes.  The ranger bore only a small cut
on one arm to show for the pair of orcs he'd just slain.
  Zephyr pounced upon another orc, pinning it to the ground while his
terrible fangs did their bloody work.  Halbarad parried a sword-thrust
from another attacker, using his dagger to stab the foe in the gut,
twisting savagely.  The sole remaining orc turned to flee, but the
ranger was faster, leaping after the humanoid and catching him before
he'd taken a dozen steps.  Just like that, it was all over.  After
Zephyr had returned to statuette form, Halbarad rested and bound his
wounds.
  He didn't like this - not one bit.  The orcs didn't usually stray
into the forest; their presence there suggested either a scouting
party for a future attack or perhaps a hidden base in the woodlands.
Either option was not only unacceptable, but a big problem.





next:      another shift, as we check in on Gorin the Greyspire warrior
ftp:       ftp.peldor.com
www:       http://www.peldor.com/download.html
homepage:  http://www.peldor.com/
email:     tmiller@peldor.com
           tmiller@cimmeria.ns.gatech.edu
released:  2/17/00
notes:     Thanks to Arnaud Olieric for the idea that led to this story.
  Fear not, it will be continued soon enough.
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